News Roundup: Education, Equality, Health, & Human Rights

Every time I read an especially good op-ed or article, I post it to my Google+ profile. Not so much because people will find it there and read it (though I hope some do), but more to remind me of it at a later time when I care to share it with a larger audience. So without further ado, here is a collection of particularly good pieces I’ve read recently, with short summaries and/or quotes in case you don’t have time to click through to read the whole article (though I hope you do).

Health around the world

  • “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive”: You should try working in 90-minute chunks, this article advises. “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.” I totally agree, since I’ve spent chunks of time working from home on freelancing and other projects. When given the chance to schedule my own day, I find that I can only focus well on a task for 60-90 minutes before becoming tired and/or distracted. This article is worth a read.
  • “The Land of the Binge”: Wonderful article by Frank Bruni on Americans’ current obsession with binging (and purging). Can’t anything be done in moderation anymore? A favorite quotation: “Moderation. Remember that? It was once held up as an indisputable virtue, virtually synonymous with prudence. Don’t get too carried away with any one thing. Don’t become too set in your ways. That was the message from parents and teachers. That was the cue the culture gave. […] But America these days is an immoderate land of fixed opinions and outsize fixations. More and more we wallow: in our established political philosophy; in our preferred interest group; in our pastime of choice; in whichever health routine we’ve turned into a health religion.”
  • “For Americans Under 50, Stark Findings on Health”: Wow. Let’s do something to change this: “The United States has the highest infant mortality rate among [17 highly developed countries], and its young people have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes. Americans lose more years of life before age 50 to alcohol and drug abuse than people in any of the other countries.”
  • “Malawi’s Leader Makes Safe Childbirth her Mission”: Read this. Admirable woman.

Education

  • “The Boys at the Back”: A nice NY Times piece on how boys — especially in the U.S. — are struggling to achieve in traditional school settings. The author points out how behind the U.S. is in addressing these issues, and that it would be to the country’s advantage to check out how other English-speaking countries around the world are helping boys get through school: “the British, the Canadians and the Australians […] have openly addressed the problem of male underachievement. They are not indulging boys’ tendency to be inattentive. Instead, they are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged. These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).”
  • “Ich Arbeiterkind”: Yes, this one is in German. Sorry. My boyfriend shared it with me last week and I spent a few days reading through it in chunks. It’s a beautifully written piece on how social class and inequality affects how children are treated in schools and ultimately determines their futures. In Germany, kids are tracked quite early (before 5th grade or so) into different high schools; some are for university-aiming students, while others are for (generally working-class) students who will essentially become tradespeople. The article hits home on how much weight a teacher has in determining a child’s future, and how without supportive teachers there is rarely a chance for a German kid to move up the socio-economic ladder. It is possible, of course, but extremely difficult. We obviously have similar problems in the U.S. I could go on about this subject, but instead I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotations from the article: “Ich erzähle das, weil ich der Meinung bin, dass jeder Mensch die Chance haben sollte, etwas aus seinem Leben zu machen.” (“I am telling you this, because I am of the opinion that every person should have the chance to make something of his life.”)
  • “Downton and Downward”: Continuing on the theme of social inequality, this is a nice piece by Timothy Egan on the lack of class mobility in the U.S.: “…Britain, much of Western Europe, and Canada are becoming more socially and economically fluid while the United States hardens its class arteries. […] universal preschool [and] more help for college students…are proven elevators to a better station in life. […] Short of winning the lottery, education is the best route to a change in class status. Yet, because of the obsolete, factory-like nature of high school, which fails to propel at least a third of its students, and the confiscatory cost of college, the next rung up for 18-year-olds is becoming another haven for the rich.”
  • “In Alabama, a Model for Obama’s Push to Expand Preschool”: Part of the impetus for Egan’s article (above) was probably the newest educational debate in the U.S.: that of Obama’s hope to make preschool free and accessible for every 4-year-old regardless of family income. This is such a good idea; early childhood education has shown to be one of the biggest determiners in future life success. I’ll leave you with a block quote about Obama’s plan: “…the administration proposed that the federal government work with states to provide preschool for every 4-year-old from low- and moderate-income families. The president’s plan also calls for expanding Early Head Start, the federal program designed to prepare children from low-income families for school, to broaden quality childcare for infants and toddlers. […] Advocates for early education frequently cite research on the long-term benefits of preschool, by James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago and others, showing a link to reduced crime rates, lower dropout rates and eventual higher incomes among those who attend preschool. […] ‘We haven’t yet tried to replicate high-quality preschool programs, because we haven’t yet tried to pay preschool teachers the same that we’re paying our K-12 teachers,’” said Lisa Guernsey, director of early education at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan policy institute. “It’s pretty hard to imagine that we’re going to be recruiting great teachers if we’re paying them a poverty-level or just-above-poverty-level wage.””
  • “Education with Hands, Hearts and Heads”, Satish Kumar at TEDxWhitechapel: My friend Sam alerted me to this; Kumar is the founder of the U.K. Schumacher College, where Sam is currently doing his Master’s degree. It’s a short talk worth watching, in which Kumar illuminates his passion for education and articulates his ideas for reforming education to employ our hands, hearts, and heads. He says, “We are not consumers, we are makers.”

Equality & Human Rights

  • “The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and her Admirable Commitment to Making us Look at her Naked”: I didn’t really like the pilot episode of “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s hit HBO series. That said, she is an Obie (like me!) and she has done a few interesting things in the name of gender equality and breaking down barriers of expectation. This quotation aptly sums up the article’s point: “For all our talk about wanting to see more so-called “real women” in the media we consume — a problematic category itself, as all women are “real,” no matter how near or far they might be to the female beauty ideal — we are awfully quick to condemn a woman who is showing us reality in a very plainspoken, unvarnished way. […] The aghast controversy evoked by Dunham’s nudity shows us just how much of this “real women” talk is lip service, and how very far we have to go before we can socially deal with the fact that different bodies exist. Truth is, we’d all probably be a lot less neurotic about our own bodies if we could get used to seeing and accepting the natural variety in other people’s — without shame, and giving no fucks.”
  • “Is Delhi So Different from Steubenville?”: A NY Times op-ed by my all-time favorite columnist, Nicholas Kristof. He’s quick to point out that human rights abuse happens both at home and abroad, in developing and developed countries alike. He’s also an unfailing advocate for women’s rights (yes!): “Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.”
  • “Love, Marriage and Voters”: By my second-favorite NY Times op-ed columnist, Frank Bruni. Bruni writes about all sorts of issues, but he is at his best when advocating for equal treatment for same-sex couples: “We’ve seemingly moved away from conventional and naïve expectations, if we ever really had them, and in the years to come we’ll surely see, on the national stage, more proof of that: candidates without partners, candidates with partners they haven’t wed, candidates with partners of the same sex. […] And my guess is that many of them will do just fine, as long as they aren’t defensive or opaque and they permit enough of a view into their lives and hearts for voters to see — and identify with — a bedrock of common longings, a braid of recognizable frailties and frustrations.”
  • “Civil Unions V. Marriage”: This is an informative piece explaining some of the main differences between civil unions and marriage. Ultimately, the article argues that the federal government should recognize same-sex unions across the board (true that!): “Civil unions, while definitely a stepping stone on the path towards equality, are rife with error. They are not universally accepted, so once you cross state lines you are once again a single person fighting the battle to simple live your life. Thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government does not recognize ANY same-sex unions. That’s right. ANY.”

Language

Peace Corps

  • An Open Letter: This begins, “Dear Person Contemplating Joining Peace Corps…” It’s worth a read, especially if you have been or are hoping to be a Peace Corps Volunteer one day. I found it to be quite accurate.

Eastern Europe (aka Ukraine & Russia)

  • “A Surprising Map of the Best and Worst Countries to be Born into Today”: This Washington Post piece cites a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit that ranked 80 countries across 11 criteria to determine “which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.” Now, rankings like this should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it was surprising to see Ukraine — where I spent two years in the Peace Corps — ranked the third-worst country to be born into: “Ukraine is a middle-income democracy […] severe and worsening problems with economic inequality, which in turn are fueling corruption and poor governance. You’re worse off being born in [Ukraine], according to the data, than you are just about anywhere else, including Sri Lanka, a poor hotbed of ethnic violence, oppressive Vietnam, or even Syria.” I can say that the economic gaps in Ukraine are huge, and that corruption is still a big problem. However, as a fellow Ukraine RPCV pointed out, it would still be worse to be born into a war zone.
  • “Why Did ‘The Ukraine’ Become Just ‘Ukraine’?”: One of the pet peeves of most Ukraine (R)PCVs is when people call Ukraine “THE Ukraine.” This article, from Mental Floss, gives a good explanation for why Ukraine used to carry an article and why it doesn’t anymore. It’s a quick, interesting read.

U.S.

  • President Obama’s Inaugural Address: It was excellent. Here are some of my favorite parts: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet […] We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. […] It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
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